Denmark “Violating Press Rights” Says IFJ As Reporters Who Exposed Iraq Claims Face Jail

The International Federation of Journalists and its regional group the European Federation of Journalists today accused Denmark of violating press rights following the news that two journalists who exposed the Government’s lack of credible evidence for its decision to back the invasion of Iraq are to go on trial and may be sent to jail.

After exactly two years of investigation Danish prosecutors are to go ahead with the prosecution of Jesper Larsen and Michael Bjerre two journalists from the newspaper Berlingske Tidende. They were first held on 26 April 2004, were questioned and charged with "publishing information illegally obtained by a third party" under Article 152-d of the Criminal Code. They face a possible six-month prison sentence.

"The decisions to prosecute these journalists, who are guilty of only telling the truth about the lack of information justifying Government claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction before the Iraq invasion, are a gross violation of press rights,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary.

“These journalists are being victimized for having made public information which calls into question a major foreign policy decision and which has embarrassed the government.”

In a series of articles published in February 2004, the journalists quoted excerpts from Danish military intelligence reports, given to them by agent Frank Soeholm Grevil, which denied the availability of credible information on the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the March 2003 military intervention by British and United States troops. The existence of such weapons, which it is now acknowledged did not exist, was the principal argument put forward by Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen to justify Danish involvement in the invasion.

The IFJ says that journalists coming upon material such as these confidential reports have a duty to publish them unless there is a very clear and increased danger to the safety and welfare of other public or private interests.

"This is one case where professional responsibility is evident and where no legal impediment to free journalism is justified," said White. The IFJ has written to European Union Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini pointing to the case as a further example how governments are using the cover of the global war on terrorism and the Iraq war to justify unacceptable restrictions on media.

“This is, regrettably, a classic example of how whenever a Government is faced with embarrassement because media report accurately on a matter the public importance, they will use the national security and secrecy rules to save their faces,” said the IFJ in the letter. “It makes a mockery of attempts at European Union level to balance fundamental rights such as press freedom, and legitimate actions to protect public safety.”

The IFJ and EFJ, which is also supporting the Danish Union of Journalists in its protests over the case, says that it will support taking the case to the European Court of Human Rights as a breach of Article 10 on freedom of expression, information and the press.

For further information contact the IFJ: +32 2 235 2200

The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries